Thursday, March 04, 2010

Boarding In Glencoe: the Return

What a difference a year, and a decent level of snowfall, makes. After a rather cold and damp trip up to Glencoe to go snowboarding last year I (and a few other Glasgow astronomy folk, and one sibling of astronomy folk) returned there yesterday. This winter's seen Scotland getting it's best snowfall in probably at least a couple of decades and the ski centres have been doing very well from it. This combined with the rather nice weather over the last few days meant taking a trip up to the slopes seemed like a very good idea - and so it proved to be. The one downside to this trip was the early start, but we got over this quite quickly. On the way to Glencoe there was slight confusion between our convoy of two cars over a stop at the Green Welly - the car I was in ended up stopping there for about 25 mins waiting for the others, when in fact they'd already reach the ski centre - but this didn't hold us up for too long, and we were probably up the chair lift and on the slopes by just after 10am.

The contrast with the previous year was pretty staggering - it was dry, there was barely any wind, you could (kind of) see the Sun, and most importantly there was a lot of proper snow rather than mounds of slush, with patches of mud poking through. My ability to use the Poma tow was also greatly improved, and I got up the slope first time (and only fell off once thereafter)! We all started off with a few runs down the main beginner slope to reacquaint ourselves with boarding (and skiing), although the two Swiss in our group were quick to head off to the more challenging slopes up the top of the mountain. We soon moved on to a slightly more difficult run, up the top of a small chair lift, and stayed on this until lunch. I think it was just prior to lunch that I peaked in my ability, and was being pretty competent at heading downhill, turning and reaching reasonable speeds, all whilst not falling over!

After a lunch of roll and sausage and chips (following on from my pig in bread-based breakfast of a bacon roll at the Green Welly), and a needed rest, we headed back up to the slopes for about three hours more. Our Swiss contingent, who'd been on all the blue, red, and even (accidentally) black runs, up the top of the hill, suggested we be more adventurous and head up there too. This required negotiating the first tow, the chair lift, and a rather painful T-bar lift (these really aren't recommended if you're on a snowboard). It was worth it for the view that you got of the surrounding Glens from the top, and I managed to cheat my way to bagging a Munro (some might say it doesn't count though) by walking to the peak. After taking in the view we had to make it down the mountain though. We took what looked like the easiest of the blue runs and tentatively made it down. In the end it turned out to not be a particularly tricky run, but being as it was the first time the non-Swiss of us had run it (and given that we'd tired ourselves out in the morning) it proved a bit troublesome and more intimidating than it should be. If we'd gone up earlier in the day and tackled it a few times I think the knowledge of the route (and that we wouldn't die by falling off the edge of the mountain) would have made it more fun. We also didn't help ourselves by discussing the recent avalanches that there had been on the slopes right by where we were.

We finished the day by taking a few more runs down the easy slopes, although by this time people were aching and levels of boarding/skiing ability were diminishing rapidly. Still Marina, Hugh and myself decided that rather than take the chair lift back down to the car park we would board our way down to the bottom (Marina and Hugh had done this prior to lunch too, but we decided to take a different, less scary, route this time). There were a couple of runs down to the bottom marked on the map, but these weren't very easy to spot when you tried to go down them. There were a few other people doing the same thing, so we tried following them, but soon had to make our own route. The initial part of the run was very nice, and there were some areas of untouched powder that were great fun to board through, but nearer the bottom things got a lot bumpier and icier. For the second half of the run Hugh and I were generally traveling about 10 metres maximum before falling on our arses. Needless to say that part took a bit longer than planned and I, at least, was completely knackered and drenched in sweat.

In all it was a great day and a proper treat to see such good snow conditions in Scotland. Hopefully we can have some more seasons like that in the years to come (although I've not been a freezing weather that has lead to these good conditions).

[I forgot to mention that on the way back we saw some runners with a torch. We thought this might be the Olympic torch (a bit early I know, but who else runs with a torch?), but going passed them we saw it was the World Harmony Run. This is apparently an organisation that runs in an attempt to promote world harmony - they aren't trying to raise money, just be more harmonious. A bold and noble aim, but I'm not sure how much more at harmony with the world I was after seeing them. Maybe you have to run and hold the torch to feel the harmony.]